Growing Urban Wineries Seek Options

Expanding case production forces Portland winemakers to consider rural locales

by Peter Mitham
Anne Hubatch of Helioterra Wines is the latest winemaker from Portland, Ore., to outgrow her winemaking facilities and relocate outside the city.
Portland, Ore.—A city synonymous with microbreweries and urban wineries is bursting at the seams as producers outgrow the facilities that made their names.

One of the next moves is Helioterra Wines’ relocation from the Southeast Wine Collective in Portland to the new Bjornson Vineyard facility in Salem, Ore.

“The space at the collective is great, and there’s a lot of opportunity there. But that particular winery, because of the way it’s structured, is better suited to brands about half of my size,” Anne Hubatch, principal of Helioterra, told Wines & Vines.

Since moving into Southeast Wine Collective’s premises in 2012, Helioterra’s production has increased 250%—from 1,200 to 3,000 cases. Hubatch also produces wines under the Whoa Nelly! label at a winemaking facility in downtown Eugene, Ore.; Whoa Nelly! has increased production 350% (to 4,500 cases) during the same period.

Hubatch is ceding her space to other, smaller wineries at the collective, which numbers Division Winemaking Co., Jackalope Wine Cellars and Ore Winery among its tenants.

“Right now, the folks that have facilities in the city are almost maxed out, and then those of us who are moving out are not at a point where we’re doing our own space,” she explained. “I was actually looking for property to stay in the city, but the real estate market in Portland is really challenging right now, and (I) was not coming up with the right spot, the right fit.”

This made a move to premises in the Willamette Valley, where Hubatch already sources fruit, an attractive alternative to leasing an expensive space in Portland—or even co-locating with other winemakers (another option she explored).

“Ultimately, I want to do my own space, but I want to do it at a time when I’ve reached a point where I’m not going to be growing my business as aggressively as I have been,” she said. “So if I have colleagues like the Bjornsons that have the amount of space that fits my need, in addition to…being one my Pinot Noir growers, it’s a good fit for now.”

Pattie Bjornson, who with her husband Mark Bjornson planted vines at Bjornson Vineyard in 2006 and built the winemaking premises last year, said the move makes sense and isn’t uncommon.

Brianne Day of Day Wines, which is launching its own 14,000-square-foot facility in the Dundee Hills this year, made wine at the Bjornsons’ in 2014. John Grochau, another Portland winemaker (and a partner with Hubatch on the Guild Winemakers brand), also makes wine at the Bjornson premises. Grochau also recently took space at another Willamette winery for his winemaking activity and remains the Bjornson’s biggest grape buyer.

Grochau originally made wine at Boedecker Cellars in Portland, but the expansion of Boedecker’s production put Grochau on the search for another location. Southeast Wine Collective provided a home, but then his own expansion prompted yet another move.

It “makes it a lot more convenient for him,” Pattie Bjornson said. “From a fruit quality standpoint, it’s nice to be getting your fruit when it’s cold, right off the vineyard and process your fruit right away.”

Urban winemakers who move closer to their growers not only get fresher fruit, growers also avoid the hassle of dealing with traffic congestion and narrow urban streets.

“When John was making his wine up in Portland—and we had to deliver 10 tons of fruit to downtown Portland—it wasn’t pleasant,” Bjornson said. “So we were very thrilled when he moved.”

Moreover, if rural property means lower overhead for urban winemakers, Bjornson and other winemakers also have an opportunity to make better use of their capacity—something much in demand as grape production continues to grow across the state. (See “Custom Crushing Expands in Oregon.”) 

“To help finance the winery, it’s nice to be able to lease space and fully utilize the equipment that we have,” Bjornson said.

This is on top of grape sales, which accounts for 80%-90% of production from the 28 acres now bearing from the Bjornsons’ vineyard, planted in 2006.

Hubatch, however, looks forward to the day she returns to Portland. Right now, space at the Bjornsons’ buys her time to consolidate her gains and strategize around a future location in the city.

“I like the model of being in the city quite a bit. It’s being closer to my customers, it’s where I live, it’s where my children go to school,” she said. “I really hope to have my stay in the valley be relatively short, because I really appreciate the benefits of being in the city.”

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